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99 billboard prepped for Shop Local message
The billboard of Highway 99 at Whitmore Avenue overpass is being eyed by the Chamber for a Shop Local message. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier file photo

Preparations are being made to equip the east and west facing billboard that looms above the Whitmore Avenue overpass with a message to shop in Ceres.

The Ceres Chamber of Commerce has been eyeballing the use of the billboard along Highway 99 with a message reminding locals to "Shop Local." Renee Ledbetter, president of the Ceres Chamber, has campaigned for Ceres residents to shift at least 10 percent of all shopping to Ceres merchants.

"By shifting 10 percent of your spending, we can generate an extra $400,000 in revenue for our community, which would fund a couple of police officers, a couple of firefighters and help improve our roads," said Ledbetter.

Last week the Ceres Planning Commission approved amendments to the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) which was approved over 10 years ago. The city allowed the two-sided billboard after the applicant agreed to let the city use the freeway side for a city message. Since it was erected, the billboard has featured the city seal with large block lettering reading, "WELCOME TO CERES."

The agreement for the billboard suggested that it could be updated every three years to convey but that the east face could not be used for commercial advertising purposes. The CUP said it could, however, "mention events that are happening in town," said Tom Westbook, director of the city of Ceres Community Development.

Since the Chamber wants to have commercial sponsors on its Shop Local message - which could be construed as commercial advertising - the city sought an amendment to the CUP. The Planning Commission approved the change in a 5-0 vote on Dec. 15.

"With 100,000 cars going on Highway 99 every day," said Westbrook, "we think that we have a pretty good thing to announce our upcoming events."

The Chamber is seeking the commercial sponsors is help pay for the $800 to $900 cost of the vinyl message that will slip over the billboard face and the installing at a cost of $400.

The city will not pay for the message project, said Westbrook.

Commissioner Gary Del Nero said "it sounds like a win-win," to which Commissioner Bob Kachel replied, "yeah, it sure does."

Hugo Molina, another member, offered the Chamber his kudos for "stepping up and making major positive changes to the community, to bringing the name of Ceres up."

Westbrook commented that Ledbetter has "done a really good job in kind of reinventing the Chamber and really taking it in a new direction and she puts a lot of time and energy into it. She was her idea."

"The idea is to bring dollars that are spent back into the community in forms of services the city provides through sales tax dollars," said Ledbetter. "So what we're on a mission to do is develop some sort of public education campaign... on why it is important to shop local and support the businesses here."

Ledbetter acknowledges that Ceres merchants do not sell everyone one may need but "for certain things we're asking them to start thinking on a local level."

"It's just going to be a matter of a mindset," she said, "changing that mindset that people should shop here."

While it may convenient to shop in Modesto while there, Ledbetter said residents need to remember local merchants at home who sell the same products.

"Even if I'm in Modesto, I make it a point to say I'm coming to Ceres to shop."

Ledbetter said the Chamber has worked hard to build the membership and is stressing "business to business connectivity" to put owners in touch with owners to maximize use of local products.

She gave the example of getting restaurant owners to serve Bronco Wines since the company is based in Ceres.